Barbarossa - George Upton

The Italian Campaigns

There was little sincerity in the protestations of loyalty which the Italian cities made to the Emperor; indeed their disrespect for him was soon openly displayed. Milan defied his authority with contemptuous arrogance. Tortoria, which had been destroyed by Frederick, was rebuilt under Milan's protection. The Milanese also demanded homage from Lodi and when that city refused to break faith with the Emperor, they advanced upon it in force, drove away its citizens, robbed them of their property, and demolished the city's walls. Complaints of these acts of violence were made to the Reichstag at Worms, and after the hearing it was decided to send an expedition to Italy for the punishment of the audacious rebels.

The expedition was considered all the more necessary because the Pope had taken sides against the Emperor, and his legate had declared before the Reichstag that the Emperor derived his authority from the Pope. This aroused the indignation of the German knights, who haughtily declared that the Emperor occupied a free throne given to him by the free choice of the German princes; that the Church was dependent upon the Empire; and that the latter would not permit any usurpation of its authority.

An armed force more numerous and better equipped than any previous one crossed the Alps. $$Frederick's army was composed of 100,000 foot and 15,000 horse. The Milanese this time appeared to be conciliatory, for, at the Emperor's summons, a delegation went to him and sought to justify their conduct. Their explanations, however, did not satisfy either the Emperor or the knights, still less the other Italian cities which had suffered. Milan was declared under the ban of the Empire, promptly besieged, and forced to surrender after making a gallant defence. It was compelled to take the oath of loyalty, give up its plunder, and promise to let its neighbors rest in peace. The Milanese were also ordered to build an imperial castle and send three hundred hostages to the Emperor's camp. The nobles and dignitaries, barefooted and with halters about their necks, begged for clemency. Frederick decided that it was not enough merely to punish crimes already committed. Wisdom dictated precaution against their commission in future. He therefore summoned four of the most experienced law authorities and required them to investigate and settle what rights belonged to the Empire and what to the cities. He was willing to concede all the rights of the latter, but he demanded that the cities should take a solemn oath to respect the rights of the Empire.

Everything now appeared settled and most of the German princes returned home with their followers; but Frederick was anxious for the future, and remained in Italy to watch the progress of events. His fears were justified, for the wildest confusion soon prevailed. Milan, encouraged by the Emperor's complications with the Pope, secured the help of Crema and other cities, and the struggle began anew. Crema was besieged by Frederick, but made a stout defence. The dreadful struggle lasted seven months before Crema was forced to surrender. Abandoned by its citizens, it was sacked and then destroyed.

After obtaining reinforcements from Germany Frederick moved against Milan. The same barbarities which had marked the siege of Crema were repeated, and the Emperor could not prevent his troops from retaliating in kind.

He made a vow not to wear his crown again until Milan was destroyed. The Milanese well knew that he would carry out his pledge to the very letter. As the year drew near to its close they saw to their dismay that he was not withdrawing his army as was his usual custom at the approach of winter, and that the siege was to be continued. It lasted all winter, but on March 1, 1162, the exhausted city sent messengers to Frederick, tendering its submission and pleading for merciful treatment.

Frederick sternly replied, "I demand your unconditional surrender"; whereupon the supplicants abandoned themselves to their fate. Three hundred knights brought the keys of all the castles and gates, and thirty-six municipal banners were laid at his feet. All persons of rank took the oath of allegiance. The entire population of the city came barefooted into camp with halters round their necks, ashes on their heads, and crosses in their hands, pleading for mercy. As the long procession was passing the Emperor, the state chariot, bearing the huge banner of the city adorned with the portrait of Saint Ambrose, was demolished, and the pride of Milan was humbled in the dust.

Wailing and wringing their hands, the people prostrated themselves, begging for mercy in the name of Christ. Every one wept. Even the stern faces of the German knights were moistened by tears; for the severity of the penalty, richly as it was merited, touched them. The Emperor alone remained unmoved. Milan's repeated acts of treachery, and its lust for power, required exemplary punishment.

"Your lives shall be spared," he said, "but the city, with the exception of the churches, shall be destroyed. Lodi, Cremona, Pavia, and Como shall perform the work, and you Milanese must find homes among these four cities."

Remonstrances and prayers alike were of no avail. The work of destruction began at once and the sister cities exultantly revenged themselves upon their haughty oppressor. Soon Milan was no more, and the other cities leagued with it voluntarily surrendered. They, too, were destroyed.

The Italian troubles were hardly ended when the presence of the Emperor was urgently demanded at home. There were quarrels and complications to be settled everywhere. He travelled all over the Empire. Now he was at Passau and Vienna, again at Cologne and Utrecht. From the Reichstags at Ulm and Laufen he hurried to the eastern frontier and quelled the Hungarian uprising. Soon after this he was at the Reichstags of Speier and Nuremberg, organizing another expedition against Italy. His representatives there unfortunately had failed to conciliate his conquered enemies. Their passion for revenge had smouldered like a spark in the ashes. Even without their once powerful leader, Milan, the larger cities had leagued themselves against the Emperor. Pavia alone remained loyal to him.

Frederick now devoted his entire attention to the restoration of order in the refractory cities, but his customary good fortune deserted him. A virulent pestilence quickly swept away a large part of his army, and those who had been weakened by illness were exposed to the fierce attacks of the Lombardians, who, emboldened by this disaster among the Germans, seized all the mountain passes in hopes of capturing the Emperor. Secret flight was his only hope of escape. With his true friend Conrad and a little band of knights, he fortunately reached Savoy, and attempted to enter Germany by way of the mountains; but he was recognized by his enemies, who planned to murder him in the night. Their plot was discovered, however. After considering various ways of escape, a knight, Hermann of Siebeneich, who closely resembled the Emperor, offered to lie in his bed while Frederick made his escape. His enemies were not so inhuman as to punish the knight for his gallant act.

Greatly depressed but not disheartened, Frederick returned to Germany, where he found plenty to occupy his attention. Henry the Lion, Duke of Brunswick and Saxony, the most powerful prince next to the Emperor, was sorely oppressing his neighbors. All of them had suffered from his depredations, the Archbishops of Magdeburg and Bremen being the special objects of his hatred. Frederick quickly ended the trouble, however, and made all concerned promise to keep the peace.

In a Frederick undertook his fifth Italian expedition. At the outset, fortune seemed more propitious than before, but this was only an illusion. He realized that there was no hope of success without fresh reinforcements from Germany, and Conrad was sent to fetch them. The latter had often performed this errand, and knew the roads and all the dangers attending the task. He did not delay the faithful performance of his mission. Many of the bravest knights hastened to the assistance of the Emperor. Conrad brought both his sons with him, that they might have their first experience of war under the greatest princes of their time. That powerful Prince, Henry the Lion, however, was angry with the Emperor, although he had been his benefactor and had increased his possessions. He pretended he was too old for service.

As soon as his reinforcements arrived, Frederick resolved to risk all in one engagement. The Italians, who outnumbered his army, made a stand at Legnano. The fields were decked in their loveliest attire; the sky arched over the charming spot like a pure crystal, and was reflected in the dancing ripples of the Ticino. It did not seem possible that deeds of slaughter and death could be committed upon such a beautiful May morning. The hosts on each side prepared for the fray. Frederick carefully disposed his troops and gave the signal for attack, he himself, as was his practice, leading the onset with desperate bravery. Right and left he drove the enemy before him. Here he rode with levelled spear straight against an entire troop, and there he smote with his mighty war-club, or clove the heads of the rebels with his two-edged sword, until blood flowed in streams. Conrad fought by his side with equal spirit, and with him his sons, who were inspired by the great examples before them. Notwithstanding their unflinching courage, however, they could not force the enemy to give up an inch of ground, although they hurled themselves again and again upon the very flower of the Italian army and fought like desperate giants.

The Germans, with their utmost efforts, made no progress. The Emperor and those about him seemed rooted to the spot where they stood. Where ten fell, twenty others immediately filled their places. Frederick's standard-bearer was felled by a terrible blow. The standard, emblem of victory, dropped, and the exultant shouts of the enemy followed its capture. Frederick grimly gnashed his teeth. He put spurs to his battle horse, and dashed forward to recover it. As the noble animal reared, its broad breast was pierced by a spear; a stream of blood gushed from the wound, and it fell under its master. The enemy swept over them like a great wave. Conrad, mindful of his duty as a vassal and brother-in-arms, rushed upon them like a lion, but he, too, disappeared as if into a grave.

When the standard fell, the Germans wavered. When they no longer saw the gleam of the Emperor's helmet and heard the exultant shouts of the enemy, they gave up all for lost. Their noblest and stoutest fighters either had fallen or were incapacitated for further resistance. They began to give way. The enemy charged them on all sides, and they were soon routed. Thousands were drowned in the Ticino, and thousands more were killed in retreat.

The Germans were in a lamentable plight, for they believed they had lost their Emperor. His devoted spouse, when she heard the news of the disaster, clad herself in mourning and was inconsolable over her loss. The enemy were jubilant, for their most formidable foe was no more. Then came the news, which sounded like a romance, that the Emperor was living, and was safe and well in his faithful Pavia, to which city he had fought his way with his friend Conrad. Who can describe the change of feeling on both sides when this news was confirmed? To his faithful followers he was still their great leader and Emperor. To the enemy he was more an object of fear than a whole army.

As Frederick could not expect any further reinforcements from Germany, and the Lombardians feared to take part any longer in outside matters, an agreement was made for a six years' truce, to be followed by a treaty of peace. Concessions were granted on both sides. Each retained its own rights and respected those of the other. This was as satisfactory to the Emperor as a great victory would have been, for there was a divine spirit of compassion as well as of heroic courage in his nature. He did not love war, but when forced to make war he was a lion.

A sorrowful duty, which he could not shirk except at the risk of the disintegration of the Empire, awaited him at home. It will be remembered that Henry the Lion had refused service to him on the ground of age, and paid no heed to his earnest pleading for assistance. His excuse was a lie. He had shown, during the Emperor's absence, that he was not too old for war by harrying and attacking his neighbors. It was the Duke's disobedience and defiance which forced the Emperor to humble this insolent vassal. Besides this, the German princes also demanded the punishment of this disturber of their peace. Frederick would gladly have effected his purpose in some mild way, but it was impossible. Henry failed to appear before the Reichstag after being thrice summoned. The decision was then announced that he should be outlawed as a disobedient vassal and deprived of all his rights.

Thereupon, the lion-hearted Henry unsheathed his sword. He feared not the whole German Empire. He defeated small bodies of the army, but when the Emperor took the field the end came speedily. Subdued by the greater hero, he threw himself at his feet. With tears in his eyes the Emperor was forced to execute the penalty; for they had been good friends, and until now there had been peace between the houses of Hohenstauffen and Welf. Henry retained only his hereditary possessions; his feudal tenure and rights were distributed among more faithful subjects, and he was banished from Germany for three years.

Thus, after years of warfare, the enemies of the Emperor were either destroyed or they wisely decided to submit to the stronger power.